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THE PILLARS OF HELL

by Lin Carter

Chapter One
– In the Land of Silence –

For many a long and weary year have we wandered down across the world, following a red star with a trail of
flame like a crimson dragon of the skies. It was in the time of my great-grandsire, Zorm, that we rose up from the land
of our fathers amidst the great mountains of the north, and took the first step on the endless trail which has led us
ever south. Down from the wintry peaks of the Roof of the World we came, fleeing before the chill breath of the Great
Ice, following the Dragon Star like a burning beacon, and the vision of a warm and golden land of fruit-burdened
boughs and eternal summer.
Hard has been the trail we followed, and many the fellow-tribesman who has fallen by the wayside, prey to the
strange and uncanny perils of these new lands unknown to us. I, Jugrid the son of Junga the Light-Bringer, have seen
many fall, to rise no more. Thom-Ra, our stalwart chief, fell in my childhood before the thunderous hooves of the
great mastodon, while we traversed the trackless Plains of Thune; and his son, Zuruk, who was chief after him, I saw
die before the assault of the Brown Men of the Plains. Now it is Charn, brother of Zuruk, who leads us on—Charn, the
boyhood friend of my own father, Junga.
My grandsire, Gomar the Hunter, was a boy when our tribe rose up and left the valley of our ancestors; my father,
Junga, was born during the long trek through the snow-bound mountains; and I, Jugrid, first saw the light of day on
the Plains of Thune. Long, I say, long has been our journeying, and the end is not yet.
When I was just entered into my sixteenth year we came at last out of the measureless Plains and left the wind-
swept tundra behind us forever. We crossed a range of wooded hills, forded a rushing river, and entered upon a land
strange and new to us, a land where sparse patches of scrubby grass withered and died before the hot breath of the
panting wind. A land of sere and desert sand which Zorm the Ancient, who yet lived, named the Land of Silence.
Yes, the aged seer, Zorm, yet lived. One hundred and eleven summers had he seen, the oldest of men, although
now he was but skin and bones and could not walk but must be carried in a litter of skins. Blind he was, but as his
outer sight faded, his gaze turned inwards, the better to read the visions sent him by the Gods.
This land we were entered upon now was a strange, dead land of crimson sand and rolling dunes, with never a
green leaf or a spear of living grass to rest the eyes upon. Truly was it called the Land of Silence, for the air was
motionless here: no winds blew, storms never came, and no birds sang. Silent as the grave was this weird, rolling land
of crimson sands, and our hearts grew faint within our breasts that we must cross this drear and desert waste. But
cross it we must and we would, for ever the Dragon Star burned like a bearded flame in the southern skies, beckoning
us on, and we are the People of the Dragon.
But the men of the tribe muttered and grumbled, and the women whispered of night-terrors and Things that
gibbered from the shadows of the sands—as women will always whisper, while the world lasts. Charn, the chief, they
said, was young and inexperienced... a wiser man, they hinted, would have sought a way around the wastes of
crimson sand, rather than plunging into this uncanny Land of Silence, where the People would perish of thirst.
But Junga, my father, spoke up for Charn the chief, and bade the people obey his behest; and Junga, my father,
commanded the respect of all, for it was he who had slain the dread-some Slime-beast amidst the marshes of Thune;
and he, the Light-bringer, who had brought the gift of fire back to the camping-place of the People. And Zorm, like a
ghost, whispered from his litter that the Way of the Dragon lay across the crimson sands of the Land of Silence, not
around them. And so we went on as Charn the chief had commanded, though there were still those who grumbled
and were unconvinced. Among these, the loudest was Kugar the Cunning, the scrawny and ill-kempt son of Tuma the
Limping.
From of old had there been enmity between Kugar and myself, for that ever on the hunt he hung back and was
never to be found in the forefront of the chase, where danger was, preferring the rear, where men such as he were
safe. And I think he envied me my swelling thews and rippling muscles, the square cut of my jaw and the fearless glint
of my blue eyes. For he was hunched and flabby and ill-favored; especially was he not favored by the women,
although he found many an excuse to be with them. And oftentimes he made my blood seethe when he cast his oily,
smirking eyes upon the dark-haired girl, Athala... Athala of the green cat's-eyes and the lissome body... Athala, whom
I hungered to make my own.
But that is another story...

Chapter Two
– Men who Vanish in the Night –

For nearly a moon had we trudged ever south across the silent sands of this accursed land, and no living thing
had we seen in all this time, save for high-flying carrion-birds, who circled lazily against the blue zenith, and, once, a
hissing reptile as crimson as the sands which hid him.
We had fallen upon this lizard-beast, hacking with our stone axes and thrusting our long spears, for our supplies
of game were nigh exhausted, and fresh meat, even the meat of monster lizards, would not be ill fare. But the thing,
was hard to slay, and long in the dying, as are all its cold-blooded kind. And there was some nameless venom in its
claws and long fangs that gave a dire illness to men, that they fell ill of the sweating sickness and were long in the
dying.
Charn the chief, who had ever gone in the first rank of our warriors in time of battle, was one of those the
venomous claws of the giant lizard-thing had raked ere it died. Now he lay lashed to a litter, raving of a burning fever,
shielded from the rays of the sun by tattered skins draped over poles, and tended by the sharp-tongued Thora, his
unwed sister. And, until the chief perished, or grew well enough to lead us on, we could go no further, and must camp
in this place of naked red rocks, where a scant trickle of sour water ran through a parched gully.
And ever Kugar and his cronies muttered dire things about our lingering in this accursed place... that we should
all die here under the fangs of the lizard-things, or of the fever, or of thirst, when the trickle of water dried up. But we
paid little attention to Kugar's premonitions of doom, dismissing them as we dismiss the croakings of old women.
Until dawn broke and four men of the tribe were missing from their sleeping skins.
They had not been carried off by marauding beasts or by men, nor had they wandered singly away, as men will
sometimes wander in the spell of an evil dream. This we knew because the prints of their feet could clearly be seen in
the smooth red sand: one by one, they had risen up from their pallets and gone striding off into the desert, into the
east. But where, and for what purpose? And why did they not return? None could answer these questions, not even
blind Zorm the Ancient, to whom the Gods gave counsel in dreams.
We were troubled and fearful and kept close to our camp in the rocky gorge all that day, save for my father,
Junga, and the most skillful and tireless of our huntsmen. They ranged far to the east, but found no sign of the missing
men... found nothing at all, save for a kind of ruin where pillars or columns rose from the shifting sands, pillars such as
might have once borne up the roof of an ancient temple in time gone by.
By that point, said my father, the slow sifting of the sands had blurred the footprints of our missing tribesmen
beyond the following.
Kugar muttered grim omens, and said that were it not for the sickness of our chief, we could be swiftly gone from
this accursed place where men rise up from their beds and walk in their dreams to an unknown death. And one of his
cronies, Nuba the One-Eyed, grinned suggestively, and added—
"If Charn, our chief, is too ill to lead us, let us give the chieftainship to wise and clever Kugar. Only until Charn the
chief has recovered his strength, of course..."
Junga my father grunted, and spat in the sand between his feet. "If ever the chieftainship is given to Kugar, I think
me Charn shall die swiftly, and in the night, of a strange malady," he growled, one massive hand closing about the
haft of his mighty axe. "Here we stay until our chief recovers his strength and can lead us forth."
"And if more of our people wander off in the night, O Junga? What then?" leered Nuba, while Kugar stood and
glared unspeakingly nearby. My father shrugged.
"We shall set guards about the camp, so that none may pass into the sands unseen," he said. "If Nuba is so
concerned with the well-being of the tribe, he may take the first watch himself."
Nuba snarled, heavy lips peeling back to show rotting yellow teeth, his one squint-eye glancing fearfully about,
bright as the gaze of a cornered rat. But his bluff was taken, and the watch was his.

Chapter Three
– Death Strikes from the Shadows –

None of us went easy to our sleeping-skins that night, and even those who did slept a troubled sleep, roiled with
horrible dreams. My father had set four guards to patrol the edges of the camp, with Nuba to the western side thereof,
and Khomar, my boyhood friend and brother to Athala, the dark-haired girl who filled my dreams, to the southern
border of the gully.
At the mid of night he roused me from my sleep and bade me go to the relief of Khomar. I rose sleepily, donned
my tunic and buskins of rawhide, cinched my girdle of woven thongs about my waist and took up my spear.
From where he lay, huddled beneath his furs near the fire, the gaunt and wasted form of my great-grandsire,
Zorm, stirred and rose on one fleshless arm, supported by Azad, the fatherless and orphaned boy who tended to his
needs whenever I or my father was not there. "Grandson Junga," the aged man whispered, "give the child the great
axe..." My father hesitated, then bent to obey. Slowly he unwrapped the mighty war-axe of polished stone which had
gone ever at the side of his own father, Gomar the Hunter. Great was the massy stone, bound by rawhide thongs to a
five-foot wooden haft, and so terrible was the weight thereof that it could crush even the skull of the great horned
bison of the Plains like an egg-shell with a single blow. For a moment my father stood, frowning, chewing on his thick
ruff of yellow beard, weighing the great axe in his hands. He had borne it from beside the bones of his father, who had
died under the Slime-beast twenty summers ago.
"Give him the Axe of Zar of the Flame," crooned the eerie voice of blind Zorm from his cradle of skins, "that wast
borne in war by Kuma the son of Zar, and by Tugar, Kuma's son, and by the first five chieftains of the People."
"I shall obey your words, Ancient One," said my father, bowing his head. "But this is the Axe of war—"
"This is war, my grandson," came that eerie whisper, "when death strikes from the shadows, and men walk in
their sleep to a nameless doom!"
My blood chilled in my veins at that weird whisper, and the flesh crept on my forearms. But I took up the Axe of
my family, and went to join the guards.
And found them gone.
When I reached the place whereat Junga my father had posted Khomar the brother of Athala, I found no one
there. For a moment I stood baffled, but unafraid, thinking he had perchance gone a ways apart to relieve nature
behind a rock. But then my breath caught in my throat and my heart froze in my breast: for there amidst the sands
some little distance off, caught in the rays of the rising moon, I saw his long spear with its glinting blade in the cold
light.
There was no mistaking it, that spear, for it was one of the new spears fashioned by the clever craft of old Tuma,
with its blade of beaten copper. Only a few of these did we have as yet, for Tuma had mastered the secret of copper-
metal after our brush with the Brown Men of the Plain, who went so-armed with the soft metal, which cut cleaner and
deeper than did our old spears with blades of chipped flint.
I picked up the spear, turning it over and over in my hands, then bent to search the crimson sands with keen,
quick eyes. There had been no struggle here, that much was plain to see, for the sand was Undisturbed. Only the
prints of Khomar's buskins in a straight row, leading off from this place step by step into the east.
From the shadows of night, at moon-rising, the unknown death had struck again. And this time the victim had
been Khomar, Khomar the laughing, the merry-of-heart, the friend of my boyhood...

With my heart heavy in my breast, I ran back to the pallet of Junga my father, to give the alarm and to rouse the
camp. And when all were roused and counted, it was seen that of the four guards whom Junga had set to watch the
perimeter of the camp, three were missing. All had dropped their weapons and strode off into the east, as if
summoned by a Call they could not withstand or refuse. Only Nuba had escaped the doom which had befallen the
other guards. Shamefacedly, he snarled that he had stepped aside to relieve himself in the shadow of a rock and must
have been thus disposed when the fatal moment fell.
"At least," smiled Kugar the son of Tuma, "let us rejoice and give thanks that the Doom of the Silent Land has not
taken from us the brave and valiant Nuba, as it has three other men—whose deaths be upon the spirit of Junga, and
none other. For had we done as I, Kugar, suggested, we should be gone far from this evil place where men die in the
night!"
"Another hath died in the night, O Kugar," whispered a thin voice from beside the fire. Slowly and painfully the
gaunt and wasted figure of Zorm the Ancient lifted itself with one bony arm wrapped about the slender shoulders of
the boy Azad. A face white and fleshless as a skull, with milky and sightless eyes, rose into the firelight.
"What means the Ancient One?" murmured Kugar uneasily.
"Look to Charn the chief," said my great grandsire. And Junga my father cried out as one stricken by an arrow
and turned pale as death.

Chapter Four
– The Fangs of Gorah –
In truth he was not dead, was Charn the chief; but he was not far from it. Some unknown hand had thrown his
sleeping furs over his face, muffling his nostrils from the life-giving air, and he was very near to death when the swift
feet of my father came to the lean-to, and threw aside the hides, and found him thus.
Thora, his sharp-tongued shrew of a sister who had tended him in his illness, set up a shrill wailing clamor. She
had slept deeply and heard nothing in the night, she whimpered, tearing her hair and beating her breast. Kugar made
a great show of comforting the distraught woman.
Swiftly, my father Junga bore the wasted body of his friend out into the open air and laid him down close to the
fire so that he might take comfort from the warmth thereof. Pale and spent and gasping for breath was our chief, and
the death-sweat glistened wetly on his drawn, suffering face. Frail and thin were the strong arms, once mighty of thew
and tireless in battle, and strengthless and feeble were the long legs of Charn, which one had outpaced the very wind.
Glorious in his manhood had been Charn, the son of Thom-Ra. But that was in the splendor of his youth, long ere the
venom of the crimson sand-lizard had crept into his veins to waste his heavy limbs and drink his strength away to
feebleness.
Old Tuma the Lame One, Kugar's sire, was clever in the ways of healing. He laid one ear against the panting
breast of Charn the chieftain, then rose, shaking his head, his white locks brilliant in the moonlight.
"He is far gone," muttered the old man, "Almost has his spirit set forth on the ghost-road, bound for the second
life."
Yes, in truth he was very near death. The suffocation he had known under the heavy skins had goaded his
laboring heart into a desperate racing. And every throb of his pulse, it seemed, drew the lizard's poison closer to his
heart. His life was to be measured but in minutes: and Charn the chieftain had no son of his loins to wear the fang-
necklace of the leaders of the People after he was gone to join his fathers.
"My time is short," gasped Charn. "Lift me up, so that all of the People may hear. And clasp my hand, Junga,
friend and companion of my youth!" Tears streaming from his blue eyes to mingle with the yellow bristle of his beard,
my father knelt to support with his arms the failing strength of Charn.
"I have no son to follow me," he said. "Take, therefore, for your chief after I am gone, Junga the Light-bringer, he
who slew the Father of Slime amidst the Plains, he who brought back to you the gift of fire."
A murmur of approval ran through the People, for my mighty sire was liked and respected by all. Or almost all...
For Nuba—him who was absent from his guard-post at the time the Doom came for the other guards—him who
was absent at about the same time some unknown hand had muffled the face of the stricken Charn in thick furs,
seeking to snuff out his feeble life—spoke up scornfully from the shadows:
"Why Junga, who is past his prime, rather than the clever-witted Kugar, here, who is young, and who speaks for
many?" he interposed.
"Be silent of tongue, you yelping cur—for all that Kugar be my own flesh and blood," snapped the white-haired
Tuma where he knelt. And Nuba grumbled into silence
"First," panted Charn, in his slow voice, struggling for every breath, "because it is my will, and because I am your
chief, the son of Thom-Ra, the son of Zorm the Ancient. And secondly, because Junga is second only to me in claim
of blood-lineage, for that he, too, is the son of a son of Zorm, the wise and ancient chief who ruled the People ere we
departed out of the valley of our ancestors. Take, then, O Junga, my brother, the seven-stranded necklace from about
my throat—"
Junga my father did so. And with his own hands, with the last of his strength, Charn fastened the necklace of the
chieftainship about my father's throat. So I became the son of a chief.
Then he sank back lifelessly in my father's arms. Yet still his white lips worked as if striving to speak. My father
bent close to catch the words.
"We will... hunt together... side by side... O my brother ... in the country beyond the clouds... someday—"
And thus he died in my father's arms.
Gently my father laid him out and crossed his hands upon his breast, clasping his copper-bladed spear. And the
women set his war-axe beside him, and put his flint knife in his girdle. Then they heaped dry grasses about him, and
sticks of wood, and with his own hands my father took up a burning branch from the fire and touched to flame the
pyre of Charn. The flames roared up about his body, to cleanse his spirit of its crimes, that it might drift up with the
rising smoke, stainless and pure from the purifying flames, to rise up to the country beyond the clouds to reside with
the spirits of his fathers forever.

***

And about the strong throat of Junga hung the seven-stranded necklace of the fangs of Gorah, the white tiger of
the snows.
The warriors of our race, when they are come to the age of manhood, were wont in the olden time to go forth
alone and bare-handedly upon the mountain to trap and slay the great cave-bear, returning with the claws of their kill
threaded on a thong about their neck, as men and full-fledged warriors. Today, as there are no cave-bears in this
strange southern clime, the young men thread colored stones upon a thong. But the chieftains of our race, the first of
whom was Zar of the Flame, must fight the dreaded snow-tiger. Seven chiefs in our line, from Zar himself to Thom-
Ra, the father of Zuruk and Charn, slew the Terror of the Snows, and returned with the Fangs of Gorah about their
throat.

***

That seven-stranded necklace was my father's now, and I would wear it in my time.
If any of us came alive out of the Land of Silence!

Chapter Five
– The Watcher in the Night –

Day was upon us before the body of Charn had fallen to ash. We broke our fast on meager fare, and after I had
seen to the comfort of my great-grandsire, I repaired to the place where Niora, the widowed mother of Athala and the
vanished Khomar had slept. They had no man of their kin to hunt for them and I had ranged far into the desert at
dawn, and had been fortunate enough to bring down one of the lumbering carrion-birds with my spear.
This I cast down before the knees of the woman, Niora, where she knelt dry-eyed before her fire. "Here is meat
for the living, mother of the friend of my boyhood," I said somberly. She looked up at me through the coils of her hair,
and her face, still beautiful although drawn with pain and toil, was weary.
"My thanks to you, Jugrid, chiefs son," she said dully. "But I have no belly for it, I, whose son lies somewhere
amidst the sands, his flesh unburnt in the sacred fire, his spirit earthbound forever, never to join his fathers beyond
the clouds. But thank you, chiefs son, for your kindness."
I bowed, and went to where Athala stood not far off, listlessly rolling up the sleeping-furs. Even in her sorrow she
was more lovely than a springtide morning. I touched her arm.
"He was my brother, too," I said awkwardly. She nodded, saying nothing, too weary for tears.
"If but one might live," she sighed, "why must it be Nuba the One-Eyed skulker, rather than tall Khomar, the swift,
the bold, the laughing—" Then she choked back a sob and I let my arm gently encircle her shaking shoulders.
"This very night," I swore, "Khomar shall be avenged!"
She flashed me a look of scorn, green eyes flashing.
"You boast like a raw boy, not a warrior and a chiefs son," she said fiercely. "Come to me again when you have
deeds to show, not empty words!" And with that she turned on her heel and went to tend her mother.
Even in her anger, she was more beautiful than the dawn.

***

That night the chief, my father, posted his guards. He would have set me among them, but I pled a gashed foot
and showed him my heel red with blood. He gave me a puzzled look, but held his tongue; although I think he doubted
me, and was surprised and hurt at my cowardice.
The blood on my heel was from the bird I slew at dawn, a bit of whose gore I had scraped up in a hollow bit of
stone.
That night, before the moon's rising, I crept from my sleeping furs and did on my leather tunic and buskins, and
armed myself. At the last, remembering the words which Zorm the Ancient had spake the night before, I took from
amongst its wrappings the great Axe of Zar and bound it across my back. Then I crept into the darkness, as stealthily
as ever crept forth the tiger of the snows.
At the head of the stony gulch in which the People camped was a tall rock rising up into the stars. This rock I
reached and none there were that saw me go. Then did I scale it carefully, unto the top, where the stone was flat and
smooth. There I stretched out so that I could watch the guards who watched the camp, without myself being seen by
any.
For a long while naught betid, and I caught myself falling into a doze, wherefrom I jerked awake, cursing the
weakness of the flesh. To keep myself awake thenceafter, I closed my fingers into a fist about the sharp blade of my
flint knife until the keen, whetted stone bit into my palm. The sting of the cut kept me wakeful, and whenever
drowsiness came over me, I but clenched the knife tighter until the bite of the blade into my flesh stung me to
wakefulness again.
And then, about the mid of night, just as the moon rose up over the far edge of the world to flood the Land of
Silence with its sheen of light, I was witness to a strange and awful thing.
For the moon rose... and as it rose there rose as well a weird and distant singing... a faerie song, such as
perchance the spirits hearken to in the country beyond the clouds... a thin and eerie song, seductive and languid,
promising unheard-of pleasures, strange bliss, unholy raptures such as the flesh has seldom known...
As I watched, myself enrapt as they, the guards turned their heads to listen, and let fall their spears from
nerveless hands, and turned to stride away into the desert. And I with them, no less ensorcelled than were they...
I was brought up short, with a stinging shock, at the brink of the huge stone whereon I had crouched. One step
more and I would have toppled to the rock-strewn sands far below. Cold globules of sweat burst from my brow and
my hands felt clammy as I realized how nearly had I come to succumbing to the same weird enchantment as had
beguiled my fellow-tribesmen.
Thinking of their peril made me search the moonlit wastes for a glimpse of them. And there they were, striding
like sleep-walkers out into the east.
And then my heart froze. For striding along in their wake was Athala, my beloved, as drugged in dreams as they!

Chapter Six
– At Moons-Rising –

I knew not how it came to be that Athala was wakeful at this hour, and chanced to have heard the singing of that
siren-song. Mayhap, sorrowing for her brother, she had not been able to sleep, and, tossing and turning wakefully,
had heard the haunting music in the night.
But, whatever the why and how of it, there she was, stumbling along in the rear of the dreaming guards as they
went blindly to meet their mysterious Doom.
I half-climbed, half-fell down the sheer side of the great rock until my feet crunched into high-strewn sand at its
base. Then I ran after the sleep-walkers, no longer fearful of being seen. A few swift strides had brought me up to
where Athala walked. I caught her by one arm and called her name, but she did not seem to hear me or to feel my
touch, but pulled away and continued walking into the east, into the rising moon.
Again I caught up to her and seized her two arms in the iron grip of my hands and shook her, and called her
name, striving to waken her from this tranced slumber. She woke not, but writhed and fought like a wildcat in my grip
until she had torn free, whereupon she continued stumbling along, like one deep in dreams.
And so I followed close upon her heels, filled with a dreadful desire to see the thing that called to her in the night,
the unseen singer of that weird, elfin song that lured men to their death amidst the crimson sands, under the risen
moon.
Ever and anon the dreamful spell wove itself about my own brain, till, benumbed, it sank towards slumber. But
when that chanced I clenched my fist ever and again about the flint knife whose naked blade I clasped still in my fist.
As we drew further and further from the camp of the People, and nearer and nearer to the Singer of that uncanny
song, I was forced to clench my fist again and again on that knife, now black with blood, tighter and tighter until the
hot blood ran down my hand and dribbled from my fingers into the parched and silent sands.
But the bitter kiss of the blade drove the fogs of enchantment from my brain and kept me wakeful and wary.
Now we drew nigh unto the place of the ruins whereof my father had spoken. And when I saw the columns
thrusting up as if to impale the round orb of the moon, I saw a weird and wondrous thing—
By the sunlight of day, my father had told us, the pillars of the ruin were like dully-polished stone, heavy and
opaque as any other kind of rock.
But, by night, and the moonfire streaming through them, they were glittering shafts of scarlet crystal, with smoky
and vaporish whorls moving slowly within them, coiling and uncoiling, and threaded through with glinting motes like
fiery and evil stars.
And I bethought me, then and there, of the burning pillars that hold up the roof of hell in one of the dire myths
related of old by Chonda the Teller-of-Tales, the fourth of our ancient chiefs, who was the very father of Zorm
himself.
The Pillars of Hell!... aye, such, indeed, they might well prove to be...
One by one, the ensorcelled guards stumbled like sleep-walkers, blank of face and empty of eye, into the smoky-
red glare of those crystal columns; and all the time that seductive faerie music sang in our ears its sweet and deathly
song... and I, alone of we six, was able to resist the siren-call of that hellish singing!
Now the foremost of the guards came stumbling up to press his face against the cold glassy surface of the nearer
of the glowing crystal columns.
As he did so there came coiling in slow and heavy whorls a dense vapor from the dry sands which were heaped
about the base of the Pillars. A thick, oily vapor that flowed and coiled and glided like running fluid or slithering
serpents. The tentacles rose to twine about him as he stood, spread-eagled against the lucence of the pillar—in whose
glimmering depths, now, the uncanny witch-fires burned bright and ever brighter, till their crimson flames flared like
the dawnward sun itself, and his form was silhouetted blackly against the scarlet blaze.
Then he shrieked.
And I stood, frozen and trembling, whimpering curses between gritted teeth, as the oily vapor coiled about him
and ate the leathern tunic from his body and the flesh from his bones and crumbled the very bones themselves into a
powdery ash!
Until there was nothing of the pitiful wretch left at all, but the flint-bladed knife he had worn at his waist and the
necklace of smooth stones clasped about his throat. These dropped into the soft sands at the base of the column and
sank from sight as the thick smoke-serpent sank back into the sands, replete.
And the coiling, smoky whorls within that Pillar churned violently; and the glinting motes blazed up like mad
stars; and the singing of the Pillars rose to an unearthly pitch.
Guard after guard went stumbling forward to clasp the cold glassy column to his breast, as one crazed with some
unholy lust, and to be consumed utterly, to a thin sifting of ash, as in an invisible bath of flames—and, may the Gods
forgive me!—I stood by, rooted to the spot, like one frozen stiff with unbelieving horror, and did naught to save them.
And then it was Athala who glided on swaying feet into that cold, unholy embrace—

Chapter Seven
– The Madness of Jugrid –

Then it was as if the spell which had held me fixed to that spot as if rooted there—snapped.
I sprang forward, roaring. I was half-mad with terror, I am not ashamed to say it, for in my youth we were a
simple tribe, ignorant and superstitious, our brains stuffed full of old wives' tales of night-devils and mist-demons and
black spirits of the killing frost. Thus it was that the thick hair of my mane lifted from my scalp and my eyeballs nigh
started from their sockets and my lips were drawn back in a tigerish snarl of berserk rage and I foamed at the mouth
like a madman.
But the red murk of fury which rose roaring within my brain broke the chains of numb inaction which had held
me ensorcelled, and I leaped forward like a charging cave-bear. One hand reached out to snatch Athala back from the
brink of doom. And so terrific was the strength that rose within my maddened thews that I hurled the girl a dozen
strides away with a single thrust.
Then straight and true I hurled my long spear with its keen blade of beaten cooper against the column and its
whirling witch-fires. It glanced away, not even scarring the tough crystal.
I ripped my flint knife from my waist, snarling like a mad wolf, the foam dripping from my bared teeth. Again and
again, roaring with mingled rage and loathing, fury and terror, I drove my knife into the column until the blunted
blade broke to flying shards.

Baffled, I slunk back, growling deep in my chest, my eyes glaring like coals under the tangle of my shaggy mane.
And then; in the red murk of my madness, I bethought me of the Axe, the great stone Axe of Zar, which I wore
strapped across my broad young shoulders. With trembling, fumbling fingers I pawed and tore at the thongs that
bound it, snapping and snarling... and now Athala, numb and bedazzled, came staggering to her feet again, and went
stumbling into the evil embrace of that Pillar of Hell, an unnatural passion smiling in her face and gleaming from her
dark eyes!
Flat against the slick crystal of the hellish column she pressed her lissome body, her warm white breasts flattened
against the cold, lucent stone. I reached out and tore her away and struck her across the face with the back of my
hand. Before the shock of that stinging buffet the panting lust faded from her eyes and the tender Athala of old peered
forth therefrom again, bewildered and fearful. I shouted something at her, and never afterwards could I recall the
words I spake; but she sank to her knees in the red sand and buried her sobbing face in her hands, slim shoulders
shaking as she wept.
The uncanny music sang in my ears, benumbing my brain, weaving its web of witchery to ensnare my soul. I
howled aloud—like a maddened wolf, seeking to drown out that eerie song. And I wrapped the fingers of both hands
about the long haft of the great Axe, and took my stand, and swung the Axe back over my shoulders. Then, with all
the steely strength in arms and back and shoulders, I swung the whistling blade of Zar s Axe against the scarlet thing
of singing crystal.
The music broke abruptly into a shrill keening, as of dread! For black cracks ran here and there through the
shining stuff of the Pillar, and my blow had gouged out a jagged chunk of the glistening, lucent stone.
Again and again I swung the great Axe against the shuddering column of crumbling glass, and now it screamed
and moaned, like the wailing of tortured women. Red fury possessed me utterly; I growled deep in my breast, and
Athala tells that my eyes glared forth from the tangle of my wet locks like the red glare of a beast in the bloodlust of
the kill.
Shard after shard I cut away, and ever the black and jagged cracks tore through the tottering column until it fell,
smashed to shivering fragments, at my feet.
And as the broken column fell to bestrew the crimson sands with its glittering shards, Lo! the witch-fires died
within it, and its wail fell to a keening, then a whimper, then-naught but silence.
But I fought on.

***

And after an eternity, my roaring berserker madness ebbed and my wits returned to me again. I found myself
prone on the dry desert sands, every trembling and exhausted and aching limb bedewed with cold perspiration. My
head was pillowed on the lap of the girl, Athala. Her warm tears were like rain on my face. But softer still were her
sobbing kisses.
I came lurching and stumbling to my feet, swaying with weariness, feeling the pull and drag of strained and
quivering sinews. My head swam with tiredness and my brain felt dull and numb and every inch of my body ached
abominably.
But the four tall Pillars of Hell lay in shattered ruin amidst the sands, and already their slick and glassy substance
was worn and pitted as they flaked away, crumbling to dust, no longer imbued with the uncanny force of their
devilish magic.
They would sing no more, those grisly relics of a forgotten race. No longer would they lure to their cold embrace
the children of men.
Wearily I bent to retrieve the great Axe where it had fallen from my exhausted hands. Then, with one arm about
the trembling shoulders of Athala, I turned my staggering feet towards the encampment of my people and the tent of
the chief, my father; and I bore with me a tale of such strange and chilling horror that never would it fade from the
memory of the People of the Dragon. Never, while the world lasts!

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